R: Violence/terror and language.
Playing at: Alamo Drafthouse, Premiere Cinemas, Tinseltown 17 (includes XD), Movies 16 (includes XD) and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Credits: Directed by Jordan Peele. Screenplay by Jordan Peele. Cinematography by Mike Gioulakis. Original music by Michael Abels. Edited by Nicholas Monsour. Production design by Ruth De Jong. Art direction by Cara Brower. Set decoration by Florencia Martin. Costume design by Kym Barrett.
Cast: Lupito Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson and Red, Winston Duke as Gabe Wilson and Abraham, Elisabeth Moss as Kitty Tyler and Dahlia, Tim Heidecker as Josh Tyler and Tex, Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora Wilson and Umbrae, Evan Alex as Jason Wilson and Pluto, Yahya Abdul-Mateen III as Russell Thomas and Weyland, Anna Diop as Rayne Thomas and Eartha, Cali Sheldon as Becca Tyler and Io, Noelle Sheldon as Lindsey Tyler and Nix, Madison Curry a Young Adelaide and Young Red and Ashley Mckoy as Teenage Adelaide and Teenage Red.
Critics’ ratings – With five stars being highest rating. Bill Kerns: Four and one-half stars. The Boy (Gage Gregory): Four and one-half stars.
Bill’s rating: Four and one-half stars.
The casting of “Us” is vital.
One cannot overlook the incredible and eerie performance by actress Lupita Nyong’o as both Adelaide Wilson and her doppelganger Red … plus the work by Shahadi Wright Joseph as Adelaide’s speedster daughter and her own doppelganger … and director Jordan Peele’s early introduction of mute, wide-eyed horror as expressed by child actress Madison Curry so many years in the past.
And yet, even more than casting, it is the consistent rhythm of Peele’s directorial process that gives birth to promising, original and gripping fear.
“Us” is Peel’s sophomore directorial effort – 2017’s “Get Out” found him Oscar nominated for Best Picture, Best Direction and Best Screenplay – and yet is by no means perfect cinematic horror.
His second film falls victim, after all, to explanatory monologue. Never a safe decision, Nyongo’s monologue reveals plot holes, not to mention a thoroughly creepy peek at the “We Are the World” multi-media project of the mid-1980s. I kid you not.
Peele may have made his bones by perfecting original sketch comedy but, with “Us,” he choreographs a dance with the devil certain to chill even unsure audiences.
Despite playfully kidding the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for a mistake made at the Golden Globes two years ago, there was no good reason for Peele to tweet “’Us’ is a horror film.”
Believe me, no one will mistake it for anything else.
“Us” opens with a few sentences on screen, stating there are miles of tunnels below the surface of the United States, and few have any known purpose.
The first visuals flash back to the ‘80s, back when Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was a hit and a little girl (Curry) wanders off into a nightmarish house of mirrors while her family visits an amusement park on the beach in Santa Cruz, Calif.
The scene jumps forward decades to the introduction of an upper middle class family portrayed by parents Nyong’o and comic relief Winston Duke, along with daughter Shahadi Wright Joseph and her kid brother Evan Alex.
That little girl from long ago (Curry) never once informed her family, friends or future husband about what happened during her terrifying childhood experience. Mind you, fleeting images remain, such as the “Thriller” T-shirt her dad won for her and a person with the Bible verse Jeremiah 11:11. These are cinematic Easter eggs demanding exploration, and the verse is translated via the King James as, “Therefore, thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.”
Where does Old Testament judgment fit in this story, or, for that matter, Jeremiah’s pretending he cannot speak?
Questions increase. Viewers hope there are explanations for all the white rabbits filling tunnels below ground. Can a monologue help, or is this simply an “Alice in Wonderland” reference?
The Wilson family prepares to visit their beach-front summer home in Santa Cruz, where they also plan to meet with another couple, the Tylers (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker) and their rude twin daughters.
Until, one night, the Wilsons suffer a home invasion by a shadow family wearing red jump suits.
Unable to keep these invaders out of their home, the confused Wilsons realize that the criminals – describing themselves as The Tethered – look exactly like them: a father, mother, daughter and son, with different names.
Only one, the mother-figure played by Nyong’o, can talk at all.
As Red, the actress communicates in English via a raspy, horrific voice while the others use a series of threatening grunts or screams. Red’s voice is more guttural than that of Mercedes McCambridge as demonic Pazuzu for “The Exorcist;” her laugh is a scratchy one-of-a-kind.
Regardless, The Tethered make it clear their intention is to murder each of their innocent doppelgangers. Each invader packs a pair of bright, golden scissors as prospective murder weapons.
The Wilsons will not go down easily, upon learning their only hope for survival is to kill before being killed.
The invaders are asked, “Who are you?”
One frightening response: “We are Americans.”
Is the title “Us” or actually “U.S.” – as in “U.S.A.?” Is that too far outside the box?
The film’s trailer focuses only on the attack on one black family, but there might as well be pods hidden in every home as horror grows.
It is also interesting that Peele prepared his actors – as much as he could anyway – by asking them to watch 10 horror films before filming began: “The Babadook,” “The Birds,” “Dead Again,” “Funny Games,” “It Follows,” “Let the Right One In,” “Martyrs,” “The Shining,” “The Sixth Sense” and “A Tale of Two Sisters.”
In the case of many, horror is anchored more by faith than logic or explanations.
Soon enough, the Wilsons are on the run from their own doppelgangers, with action increasingly violent. Peele pays tribute to numerous films, even saluting “Black Swan” with a pas de deux choreographed as combative.
Soon enough, Adelaide decides her family’s only hope is to get out of town, praying that attacks by The Tethered are limited to Santa Cruz. But Peele saves even more twists and the best drama for later scenes, with each family member facing his or her own doppelganger.
“Yeah, but I also killed me,” reminds one character.
“Get Out” provided more social commentary, while “Us” may provide more questions. Regardless, both movies are indicative of a rock-solid storyteller behind the camera.
Even with scrambled nerves, moviegoers will be looking forward to what Peele brings us next.
Gage’s rating: Four and one-half stars.
Before seeing “Us,” I was very excited to see how Jordan Peele would follow his terrific directing debut with “Get Out.”
From beginning to end, I was glued to the screen, wondering what would happen next in “Us.” Calling myself satisfied is a supreme understatement and I know I will see “Us” again just to see how much I missed the first time.
Peele has done a great job telling a story about a family’s will to survive.
He executes the film skillfully, wasting no time in explaining what is happening and providing numerous family-bonding moments, such as their car ride to the beach.
The only possible downside might be how long Peele is willing to wait for his big reveals in the final act. However, the mystery kept me connected with the story.
Actress Lupita Nyong’o is absolutely excellent, playing not only Adelaide Wilson, but also her deadly double known as Red.
She sets the bar extremely high very early for other actresses hoping to compete for next year’s Oscar. She is by far the film’s strongest point, as she embodies not only a crazy person trying to kill others, but also a mother willing and very able to defend her children from whatever harm.
The entire cast impresses, although Nyong’o is a standout.
Do not expect to be manipulated by jump scares; Peele’s “Us” is better written than that. It works as both a thriller and a horror film. Parts of the film are scarier than others, but the final effort is consistent.
Those who love cinematic twists and surprises will not be disappointed. I will not reveal spoilers – but trust me, I loved the film’s twists and they make me want to re-watch “Us” until every question is answered and every plot point becomes clear.
“Us” is my pick for this year’s best film thus far. It is a terrific movie with a great story and fantastic characters, including a top tier performance, and finally a solid twist guaranteed to keep each viewer perched on the edge of his or her seat.